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During the Augmented World Expo this week, the crowds were back at one of the big Silicon Valley events where the cognoscenti of the metaverse, gaming and XR industries gather each year. They talked about the openness of their platforms and their hopes for shared prosperity in the future.
Thousands of people crowded the more than 3,000 booths at the event that signaled that the $38 billion XR industry (per Artillery Intelligence) is back on its feet after years of bumpy growth and naysayers who said it would never reach the mass market.
But behind the noise of the crowds, I couldn’t help feeling there was also some quiet desperation. Let’s hope this isn’t the last stand before the onslaught of the biggest walled garden. Apple is coming. Its long-awaited entry into the mixed-reality headset market may happen as early as Monday at Apple’s Worldwide Developer Conference (WWDC) event. It’s enough to make us all forget about AI for a few days.
“It’s the iPhone moment for XR,” said Nicole Lazzaro, CEO of XEO Design and creator of the first iPhone game. She had a coveted invitation to the Apple event.
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Ori Inbar, founder of AWE, said in an opening talk at AWE that the evidence had mounted for Apple’s announcement, which has been rumored for years. He noted Palmer Luckey, founder of Oculus, said in social media that the Apple device “is excellent.” Some veteran XR writers such as Ben Lange of Road to VR and Ian Hamilton of Upload were invited to attend the exclusive Apple event. That’s a clue for sure.
Inbar welcome Apple’s long-awaited arrival as an endorsement of a market that others had believed in for a long time.
Meta certainly anticipates that Apple will dive into the market. So Meta CEO Mark Zuckerberg went on the offensive, announcing on Thursday that the Meta Quest 3 virtual reality headset will debut in the fall for just $500. The Apple headset, according to Mark Gurman at Bloomberg, could cost $3,000.
With more than 20 million Quest and Quest 2 devices sold, Meta has cred in the market. And it is packing a lot of tech into the device, which is 40% thinner than its predecessor and has color passthrough for better mixed reality applications. One developer, who already has the Meta Quest 3 prototype, said that the Meta device could use more memory but it will be interesting competition for Apple.
On Monday, Apple CEO Tim Cook is expected to tout the xrOS operating system for the new device and other features that were seven years in the making. The device is expected to have a lot of iPad apps, converted to run in mixed reality, as well as things like wellness apps, fitness experiences, virtual collaboration, video conferencing, virtual meeting rooms, top-tier game titles, a portal for watching sports, and many other apps, Bloomberg said.
Peggy Johnson, CEO of Magic Leap, also said in an interview with GamesBeat that she welcomed the attention that Apple would bring to the XR market. She said Magic Leap would distinguish itself with precision technology for overlaying images on the real world in enterprise applications. She showed one such healthcare application where her own innards were on display in 3D based on MRI data.
“Magic Leap has been doing this for over a decade,” she said. “It feels good to have more entrants. It will help grow the ecosystem. It gets the developers in the audience excited about this medium and the programming in it. And we’re excited about the coming announcement. Apple doesn’t typically jump into a market too early. So that’s very validating if they’re coming into the market.”
In a keynote at AWE, Qualcomm’s Hugo Swart, vice president and general manager of XR, touted the openness of the company’s support for XR with its Snapdragon processors and its Snapdragon Spaces platform. As a chip design firm, Qualcomm is arming the opposition that favors open ecosystems. He noted Qualcomm’s hardware is in 65 leading XR devices, with more coming this year.
“We want to show we have been investing in XR for the longest time,” said Hugo Swart, the XR leader at Qualcomm. “We started with AR back in 2010 and we backed the VR headsets in 2015. The world should understand that we have been doing this for a long time.”
Neal Stephenson, author of Snow Crash, also echoed the notion that open platforms should rule the metaverse, rather than walled gardens.
Others hope that Apple’s focus on Lidar sensors, which are used in many self-driving cars and Apple’s products, would turn into an advantage. David Levitt, CEO of Pantomine, has created the AR technology dubbed Reality Construction Kit that uses Lidar to build AR apps where animations can be seamlessly overlaid on the real world when viewed via a phone or XR devices.
“I feel like Lidar will be an advantage for our platform,” Levitt said.
I can’t help but wonder if developers will be singing Apple’s praises a decade from now, or if they’ll bemoaning the new monopoly it has built over XR and the metaverse, much like Epic Games has decried Apple’s stranglehold on the iPhone platform today.
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